"It was not a fun developmental process," Best Intentions bartender and co-owner Christopher Marty says of his experiments with matzo. Pito Rodriguez, a bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar, had challenged him to create a cocktail with the unleavened bread traditionally eaten at Passover. "He just chose the first Jewish thing he could think of, I imagine," Marty says. "He's trolling me, obviously."
"I grew up eating it, still love it, but I gravitate towards things that taste like sticks and leaves," he says. And matzo's lack of flavor means that it doesn't lend itself particularly well to cocktails. Marty tried infusing spirits with matzo; the result, he says, was "incredibly boring." He crushed up matzo to put on the rim of the drink, which still didn't taste like anything, and "you end up with crackers all over your lips."
Finally, Marty turned to matzo ball soup. He got a copy of his grandmother's handwritten recipe for the version he grew up with. "I found out in the process that my grandmother used vodka in her matzo balls, which I did not know," Marty says. "And did not surprise me. There was vodka involved when she was writing the recipe, because it was rather difficult to read."
The Thank You cocktail by Christopher Marty of Best Intentions is more like "alcohol soup," he says.
To make his cocktail, Marty followed his grandmother's recipe for the matzo balls, but made a small tweak to the soup: instead of adding water to the carrots, celery, and chicken bouillon, he added alcohol. First, though, he did some research and found that Jewish history involves beer and wine more often than distilled spirits. "I considered doing something with Manischewitz, because that's your go-to hilarious Jewish drink, but it's not very good," he says. Instead he used grappa, because it's distilled from grapes, and Rittenhouse Rye, because Heaven Hill Distillery, which makes the whiskey, was founded by Jews. The final ingredient, Becherovka, is an herbal liqueur that he chose because the Czech Republic, where it's made, has a strong Ashkenazi Jewish culture.
"I made alcohol soup," Marty says. Because heating up spirits burns off most of the alcohol, he did it in two phases: first he added several cups of his alcohol mixture (one part grappa, one part whiskey, and a half part Becherovka) to a pan with chopped celery, carrot, parsnip, and parsley, and simmered the "broth" while he made and rested the matzo balls. When he added the matzo balls to the soup, he also added several more cups of alcohol. The cocktail, which he named Thank You, Janice for his grandmother, is the matzo ball itself, served with a little of the broth. "The broth itself has almost no alcohol left in it," Marty says. "The matzo balls will get you drunk."
Marty has challenged David McCabe of Osteria Langhe to create a cocktail with escargot.